|As recently as 1991, the educational attainment of Bangladeshi women was among the lowest in the world. Eighty percent were illiterate. Equipped with few skills and uninformed about health care, family planning, and nutrition, they were trapped in a cycle of dependency.
To ensure that school-age girls, especially those in rural areas, receive an education, the Female Secondary School Assistance Project was set up in the early 1990s by the World Bank and the government of Bangladesh. The project provided incentives to keep girls in schools and resulted in a sharp rise in the number of girls enrolled in grades six through ten.
The girls brought into the program, mainly from poor rural families, receive a small cash stipend to ease the financial burden of their education. To further encourage schools to enroll girls, a tuition assistance payment has also been provided to schools that choose to participate in the program.
In the areas targeted by the project, female enrollment more than doubled to more than
1 million in 2001 from 462,000 in 1994. The overall proportion of females who married at an early age in areas served by the project declined between 1992 and 1995, to 14 percent from 19 percent for 13 to 15-year-olds, and to 64 percent from 72 percent for 16 to 19-year-olds.
The benefits of educating girls have reached far beyond increasing individual opportunity. Higher education levels for girls have been shown to alleviate problems such as high birth rates, poor health practices, and high infant mortality. This project is providing continued support to a very effective effort on the part of the Bangladeshi government to enable poor rural girls to improve not only their own lives, but the well-being of the country.
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Updated: July 2002